Girl Gamers, Female Gamers, and Labels: A Twitter Recap

Lately I’ve been a Twitter-argument magnet, which I blame on being more active on the League of Legends Twitter scene and picking up a number of new followers who aren’t familiar with my “evil man-hating feminist side”.  Snark aside, I’ve received a couple of tweets that made me spark up some intriguing and heated conversation today.

The first was in response to my recruitment of a few women in the game industry to participate on a GDC panel about women in games, when a male-presenting Twitter user told me that he doesn’t understand why there has to be a dividing line between men and women in games.  I replied to him that there is definitely a gender gap in both hiring and wages within the game industry, and that it’s still very much a male dominated field.  He still didn’t understand why women-oriented initiatives are important, because all of the gamers that he knows don’t see a distinction, they just see themselves as ‘gamers’.  A woman replied to the conversation and chimed in that she doesn’t see herself as a “female gamer”, just a gamer.


This got me thinking, because I remember a few years back writing a post on my old defunct blog about how I felt I was “one of the guys”, just a gamer and that my gender had nothing to do with anything.  Of course, since then I have become educated about feminist concepts and I now look at things from the larger systemic picture.  I no longer think that trying to erase my gender and blend in with the men is the right way to go.  Dys_morphia said this eloquently:

But other people approached this from a different angle, one that also made a lot of sense.  How can we ask to be treated the same as male gamers and not ‘special’ (a la “girlfriend mode”) yet ask for differentiation?

My general reply to a viewpoint like that is that just differentiation is fine and that it’s important to acknowledge that women play games and have unique perspectives that men might not share.  To make a poor analogy, I see this kind of thing when Pride parades roll around.  People wonder why the LGBT community wants to do so much to set themselves apart from straight and/or cis populations when they’re also fighting for equality and acceptance.  The answer to widespread acceptance isn’t the ignoring of those people and pretending that all sexualities are heteronormative and that gender identity is binary.  Likewise, I don’t think we’d move forward to a place where video gaming culture is inclusive by pretending everyone is one homogenous batch of male white straight dudes.

Regardless of that point, it seemed pretty unanimous that people despise the “girl gamers” label.

And one who even feels that the word “gamer” is a loaded and gendered term that should be analyzed:

Yet there are also women who play video games who feel strongly that being a woman is part of their gaming identity and that it shouldn’t be hidden.

Clearly there is quite the divide in opinion here on whether female-identified players should be loud and proud to be women who game, or whether we should be quiet and blend in to avoid attracting negative attention to ourselves.  And that we need a better term other than “girl gamers” for those of us who are adults.

About Tami Baribeau

Lead Editor and co-founder of The Border House, feminist, gamer, lover of social media, technology, and virtual worlds. Pansexual, equestrian, dog lover, social game studio director and producer. Email me here and follow me on Twitter!
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10 Responses to Girl Gamers, Female Gamers, and Labels: A Twitter Recap

  1. Thanks for sharing the whole discussion, Tami!

    FWIW, this is the academic article I alluded to in my tweet: http://nms.sagepub.com/content/14/1/28 Though people will need to be able to sign into Sage in order to access it :(

  2. KampaiKitty says:

    Oh look, it’s me! Haha, I’m kind of honored and kind of horrified that I couldn’t be more eloquent about my feelings, especially now that more than my tiny amount of followers will see it.

    Because twitter doesn’t allow me enough room to type anything really meaningful, I hope you don’t mind if I add my two cents here:

    To sum up, while I honestly don’t mind others putting their gender before the word “gamer” to differentiate that they are a minority, I feel that this is not right for me personally. The could stem a lot from the problems I have with expressing my own femininity and not feeling much like a woman, as compared to a indefinite gender-less blob most of the time.

    But to me, as a gamer, I want everyone to be treated equally. I feel like if I say that I am a female gamer then I am somehow saying: “I’m female, therefore I am different/better/more knowledgeable/less knowledgeable/more of a feminist than just ‘gamers’.”

    When in reality, the one thing I strive to avoid is coming off as more knowledgeable/better than anyone else, because I feel that I have something to learn from everyone, even the white/straight/male ‘gamer norm’. To me, it kind of feels like, rather than bringing awareness to the fact that minorities play games, that we are creating a rift between cis-gendered female gamers and the male and transgender gaming communities by focusing on our differences rather than our similarities.

    And honestly, when I play games, I don’t really feel…womanly, I guess, and perhaps this is why I think of this issue differently… But when I play games, I play them as just me, and just me doesn’t really have a very strict gender identity yet. So if I see something in a game that is insulting/triggering/discriminatory (to ANYONE) it bothers me as a person, not specifically as a woman.

    Just to repeat, these are MY reasons for not calling myself a girl/woman/lady/female gamer, and I don’t want anyone to misunderstand that. I’m not saying that any of the above should apply to anyone but me!

    I do have to wonder if this is different for those of us who do have a very strict sense of gender identity, or for transwomen. I would love to see more thoughts on this issue, as it’s always been something I am curious about.

    And thank you so much Cuppy for taking what could have been a tiny conversation never to be seen again and turning into an open forum! I’m ecstatic to see this issue get more discussion!

  3. Pai says:

    Yeah, I’m another example of a woman gamer who thought she was ‘one of the guys’ and that my gender didn’t matter until, of course, there’s that sudden unprovoked backlash (or a slowly accumulating pile of ‘isolated incidents’ that start forming a pattern) that will harshly inform you that you’re not. It’s only a matter of time.

    Having enough of those experiences is what actually brought me to feminism in the first place.

  4. Maverynthia says:

    I twittered too late to be part of the article, so I’m going to sum up my tweets here.. or expound.

    I feel (for me at least) that I have two labels. Gamer and Woman Gamer. When I am actively playing a game by myself or while MMOing (by myself) I am a gamer. There’s really nothing the company can do to fix anything at the moment.

    Now when we are getting down to statistics and the design process I am a gamer who is a woman, a Woman Gamer. (Girl Gamer or gamer girl for me is rather an insult for those that aren’t girls.) This is important as we can STILL see that male gamer thus ‘gamer’ is the default and the target audience that gets catered to. Even in the indie scene the protagonist is almost always male and the storylines geared towards a male audience. Games that are targeted at women in other countries don’t get brought over, being called ‘no interest’ and ‘too risky’. (Not that games targeted at women from other countries are really feminist, however they do show that other countries consider women valid consumers where games are concerned).
    Aksys Games localized Hakuoki and said it was successful… and that was the last ever heard from that. So it seems when games aimed at women ARE successful it’s like a fluke and not proof that people want these things.
    In the end my label a woman gamer is important, I want to bee seen as that valid audience and consume games aimed at me and complain when they are wrong and praise when they are right. I want my $150 statues of Female Awesome Military Person that isn’t sexualized. I want my “stuff” to buy.

    Addendum: I seems that only in mobile gaming that women are a target audience or seen as a valid source of income. This causes people to now look down on mobile gaming as ‘not serious’ much the same way they look down on Facebook games.

  5. Eric says:

    Please keep using Female Gamer, Lady Gamer, or any gendered preference therein. I am constantly annoyed by the core conceit of the default being “white male” for “gamer”. I totally agree with @femmissgeek, smash that stereotype.

    And yeah, the term does do some “othering” (weird word btw) but I kind of feel like that’s the whole point. Women aren’t men, and that’s ok! It’s ok to be the other person, different. Guys should get over that crap, and we should all celebrate our awesome differences.

  6. Shannon says:

    Being referred to as “girl gamer” by anyone in any context tends to give me very brief violent wishes towards the speaker’s face. It manifests as a single eye twitch, luckily.

    It is not only infantilising nonsense, it is illegitimizing, othering nonsense.
    I am a woman who games. I am a gamer, who is also a woman. I self-identify as neither (I prefer button-mashing human) but I am both for better or worse.

    I do however call myself a female/woman gamer for the sake of solidarity, and simply as a big rude raspberry-blowing gesture to those who don’t think I’m real or worth catering to.

    I think there might be value to making male gamers start referring to themselves as such, given it seems to be necessary for women and only women to make a declaration about their gender. People – well, men – tend to protest that it’s silly calling themselves a male gamer… It’s like, yeah, you’re telling me. Might make people realise how ingrained this sexism is.

  7. menunu says:

    I’m late! I use the term Lady Gamer. Or I guess I could use Gal Gamer (I like the term gal better than girl, I don’t know why!) (Like, “How’re you gals doin?”) I’m going to follow you folks on the twitter with my “gamer” account. I do livestreamin.

  8. Bex says:

    Ooo, am I internet famous now?

    Yes, there is something to be said for wanting to be perceived as “just a gamer.” I get that. But there is a stigma attached to being a female gamer, or a gamer from any marginalized group. If we don’t stand up and identify ourselves as women, gay, people of color, or what have you, these groups will continue to be considered not part of gaming culture as a whole.

    Yes, we’re all just gamers, but we need to change the popular (an so wrong) opinion of what being a gamer is: a young, straight, white male living in his mom’s basement.

  9. ProdiGal says:

    Personally, I don’t see what’s so bad about “gamer girl”. But I don’t really see “girl” as inherently infantilizing… to me the ethos of the label strikes closer to something along the lines of something else that uses the “girl” label – the Riot Grrrl movement – at least in the sense of carving out a space and an identity in what has historically been (and continues to be) dominated by men and male narratives. So while there might be negative connotations associated with the label, I don’t feel like it should be summarily thrown out for that reason.

  10. Ten says:

    I believe an important factor is that in many mainstream gaming scenes, the existence of female gamers is not only rare, it is unwanted and purposefully denied. Silenced, you might say. To declare oneself a woman/female/girl gamer is to resist that denial, to say “No, actually, we are here, we aren’t going to hide, and we aren’t going to go away either.”

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